Friday, December 2, 2011

Tips for Cooking the Best Hamburgers

Burgers -- most of us love them. But sometimes they are dry, sometimes they don't have much flavor, and sometimes they turn into "hockey pucks" on the grill. Here are some tips to bring your burgers from "good" to "great".

Select the Best Meat

I surveyed a lot of authorities on cooking burgers, and there is agreement on this point. The best, juiciest burgers are made from ground beef chuck, which is about 20 percent fat. Less fat makes a drier burger (however, see tips below when using leaner meat). Meat labeled "ground beef" or "hamburger" can be up to 30 percent fat, and authorities agree that it is also best to know what part of the animal your burger is coming from.

Even Better...and Best Ways

Select a piece of chuck and have your butcher grind it (yes, there are people behind those doors -- just ring the bell). Ask for a "coarse" grind. Or, best, grind your own with a meat grinder or chop in the food processor (cut into 1- to 1½-inch cubes first). An advantage to this is that there are fewer worries about contamination and you can safely cook your burgers medium-rare, if that's how you like them.

Don't Handle the Meat Too Much

The heat from your hands begins to melt the fat and makes the patty too dense. Move it lightly from hand to hand and loosely make a patty ¾- to one-inch thick (no thicker, or you will have to cook it too long).

Don't Press Down on the Burgers When Cooking

This compresses the meat, making it denser, and also squeezes the juices out of the meat.

Make an Indentation in the Top

Have you noticed that your burgers tend to form rounded tops when cooking, causing the condiments to slide off? So did the folks at America's Test Kitchen. They found that by pushing down slightly in the center, creating a round area about ¼ inch lower than the surrounding meat, made the burger come out flat.

Try Different Types of Meats or a Combo

Almost any kind of ground meat can be used to make burgers, or mix together different ones. I've heard of mixing pork with beef, chicken with lamb, or even buffalo with beef. For flavor, try mixing some fresh sausage in with another type of meat.

Adding Flavors to the Meat

Many people just want great beef, straight up with salt and pepper. But it's also fun to add flavors, and if you are using leaner meats, or leaner cuts of beef, you can add moisture at the same time. Finely minced vegetables such as onion, mushrooms, or mild chiles are especially good for this. You can also take a lean cut of meat and add some olive oil for good fat, although this will cook faster than meats that are naturally fattier. More Tips on Cooking Low Fat Burgers from Fiona Haynes Tip: When adding other ingredients to ground meat, use a spoon or spatula to avoid heating the meat with your hands - see above.
Liquids - Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce are perhaps the two most common liquids to add to burgers. Most recipes call for about a Tablespoon of liquid per pound of meat, but I have seen anywhere from a teaspoon to 2 Tablespoons. Wine is another possibility, or, for blander meats, concentrated beef stock or Better Than Bouillon.
Spices - Other than salt and pepper, almost any spice in the cabinet is a good addition. Garlic or onion powder is probably the most common, but everything I've seen everything from chili powder to Asian spices to Middle Eastern to packets of salad dressing mix (but watch the sugar on that one).

Cooking the Burgers

Get the grill or pan really hot. If using lean meat, oil the grill or put a little oil in the pan. Put the burger in and don't move it until it naturally releases. Some people turn it at this point (and then flip again later), and others cook for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on how hot the grill is, the type of meat (leaner meat cooks faster), and how done you want it to be. Then flip the burger and cook on the other side until done, about 2 to 3 minutes more. If you have a thermometer, cook until 160° F., unless you have fresh meat ground at home. In that case, you can take them off around 140 if you like.

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